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History of the Appalachian Regional Development Initiative

In the fall of 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), in consultation with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, led a number of federal agencies in creating the Appalachian Regional Development Initiative (ARDI), an effort to strengthen and diversify the Appalachian economy and better coordinate federal efforts in the Appalachian Region.

To better understand Appalachia's priorities and needs, ARC and USDA convened five listening sessions across Appalachia in the spring of 2010. Over 400 Appalachian citizens attended the sessions, including representatives of state and local governments, nonprofit entities, community organizations, and business and industry groups.

At the same time, the ARDI working group prepared an economic assessment of the Appalachian Region (PDF: 4.25 MB). The economic assessment found that Appalachia continues to lag behind the rest of the nation on a broad range of key indicators of well-being, including employment and earnings, household income, poverty rates, and education attainment. Patterns of global trade and technology have shaken Appalachia's traditional reliance on manufacturing and have disrupted many local economies that were already fragile. The study also noted that the Region possesses substantial natural assets that could help sustain a vibrant economy.

In the listening sessions (PDF: 625 KB), local leaders highlighted the continuing need across Appalachia for basic infrastructure and broadband access, enhanced workforce development, and improved access to quality health care. They also expressed an interest in diversifying the Region's economy, boosting support for small businesses, capitalizing on the Region's natural assets, and adopting approaches that emphasize regional solutions. Participants generally indicated that federal agencies should collaborate more, coordinate efforts better, and be attentive to the special needs of rural areas. Citizen input from these sessions, and data from the economic assessment, were used by ARC in the first phase of the development process for its 2011-2016 strategic plan, Moving Appalachia Forward (PDF: 3.7 MB).

Memorandum of Understanding

In June 2010, ARC and federal agency representatives met to consider the findings of the economic assessment and the priorities identified in the field listening sessions. The session produced a call for a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which the federal agencies agreed to collaborate on activities in Appalachia and to perform targeted outreach to better inform citizens of available programs.

The MOU formalizes the Interagency Coordinating Council on Appalachia and establishes federal regional steering committees. It calls for agencies to identify challenges encountered in their work in Appalachia and help formulate mitigating strategies. It also states that agencies will conduct federal outreach to local communities to facilitate local participation in federal programs and will collaborate with regional stakeholders to make strategic and cost-effective investments in Appalachia.

On November 12, 2010, ARC and USDA, along with seven other agencies, formally unveiled the MOU in Abingdon, Virginia. It is, in part, the federal response to the 2010 listening sessions and economic assessment. To date, the MOU has been signed by ARC's federal co-chair and the secretaries and heads of 13 federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, Transportation, and the Treasury; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the U.S. Small Business Administration; the Corporation for National and Community Service; and the National Endowment for the Arts.

As a first step in implementing the MOU, ARC and USDA held federal technical assistance/outreach sessions across the Region in 2011 to provide information on federal funding opportunities and the federal grant application process. Three one-day technical assistance sessions were held in the spring of 2011; three more were held in the fall.